RAC Rally of the Tests 2018: Day 2 - Testing times!

RAC Rally of the Tests 2018: Day 2 - Testing times!
It was a chilly, peaceful, autumnal start for the spectators gathered at Curborough Sprint Course in Lichfield, writes Motoring Research’s Richard Aucock, but the silence was soon punctuated by the sound of the first RAC Rally of the Tests crew racing against time to make sure not a second was lost.
Cups of tea were put down, bacon butties were wrapped up, cameras were prepared and all eyes focused on the starter marshall. Still there was silence as he looked at his stopwatch - and then, he raised his arm: “5, 4, 3, 2, 1, GO!”. Revs rose, cameras rose, children jumped and waved. The first test of the second day of RAC Rally of the Tests 2018 was go.

The tests continue

This challenge, held early on a chilly autumnal Saturday morning, was at the well-regarded Curborough Sprint Course in Lichfield. It’s located just a few miles from the Alrewas National Memorial Arboretum - fitting, as all the RAC Rally 2018 cars are all carrying poppies as part of their livery, to mark Remembrance Sunday on 11 November.

Competitors had to complete a course, against the clock, following a complex routine. This was not simply driving around for a lap and hoping for the best; the prescribed formation was detailed and challenging. Even on the startline, some teams could be caught swotting up on the directions.

Just to add to the task, it was early morning on a Saturday. The air was cold, and the ground was colder. Picturesque Curborough was enjoying the autumn with dew on the ground and leaves everywhere. Slip-ups would be punished, as proven by a gorgeous green MkI Volkswagen Golf GTI suddenly pirouetting as they turned into a corner.

They continued, chastened, but charmingly in hysterics by the time they reached the finish line. The Rally of the Tests spirit once again. Some take it deadly seriously. Others find themselves surprised at how well they’re doing. Most simply revel in the experience, the camaraderie, the warm and feelgood glow of taking part in such a friendly and enthusiastic event.

Overnight dramas

We caught up with one crew on the startline. Tim Sawyer and Andrew Duerden in their 1971 Ford Escort Mexico were battle-weary. “We’ve been up most of the night,” said Andrew. “Gearbox had to come out,” nodded a sanguine Tim. “Clutch split in two so the whole lot had to be taken out. I’m amazed we’re here, actually.” Ever-cheery, Andrew shrugged. “It’s what you do, isn’t it?”, he said, revelling in the lack of sleep. Rally die-hards are an uncommon breed.

A few other crews were missing, after suffering problems on the first day. The challenge of Harewood was too much for some. But others were here, and felt it was against the odds: the indefatigable help of the RAC patrols had put them right.

Most crews had enjoyed a relatively problem-free day, although this didn’t mean they weren’t still suffering from the nerves. An oh-so British dice as to who would be first through a gate, at 1mph, was proof of that. Paint was very nearly exchanged. Eventually, one party surrendered - and gave the most charming ‘after you’ that showed frayed friendships don’t last for long on Rally of the Tests.

Leading lights

The front-runners at the moment are Steve Entwistle and Ali Procter in their Mini Cooper S, Paul Wignall and Mark Appleton in an Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint, and Dan Willan and Martyn Taylor in a Volvo PV544. It’s so close, things can easily change, but Entwistle and Procter appear to have the lead on Saturday night; given how the crowds seem to love watching the mighty Minis race, this is a popular lead.

But everything can change. On Sunday, a day of driving in Wales and Somerset ensues, before reaching the final test at the RAC Supercentre in Bristol. If things are as close then as they are now, this will be a standoff well worth watching - particularly given the variety of the cars and the enthusiasm of the crowds.

Like all Rally of the Tests showcase, it’s free to attend at Bristol too. Turn up, grab a warm drink, put the kids on your shoulders and enjoy what almost certainly will be a great day’s driving.

It’s free, it will see you on your way back home before the sun goes down, and you will certainly see a lot of action in a tightly-packed space. Our advice, from everything we’ve seen over the past few days? Jump at the chance. Given the following Rally of the Tests has gained this year, you certainly won’t be alone if you do come along...

Click here to find out what happened on day 3!

Some more shots of today's action

Some highlights from the full event